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Medications that Ease Pet Anxiety

dog anxiety editedAnxiety is at the heart of many problem behaviors in dogs and cats. Sometimes the relationship is obvious. For example, a dog that panics at the sounds of fireworks is obviously anxious and fearful. Conversely, owners may have trouble recognizing that anxiety is at the root of their dog’s aggressive behavior or their cat’s unwillingness to use the litter box, blaming the pet for being “bad” instead.

When owners assume that a pet is intentionally misbehaving, their first inclination is often to punish the individual. Unfortunately, this exactly the wrong reaction when a behavior results from anxiety. The animal is already afraid, and punishment simply confirms that their fear in that situation was justified.

The first step in determining whether or not a pet is anxious is to observe their behavior when they start acting nervous. Dogs that are suffering from anxiety or fear tend to display the following traits. Cats respond in a similar manner, although their postures may be more subtle.

  • muscles are tense
  • the head may be pulled back slightly or held lower to the ground
  • the eyes are opened wide, perhaps with the whites showing
  • the ears are pulled back or flattened against the skull
  • the mouth is closed or slightly open in a tense “grin”
  • the tail is held low and may be rigid, slowly wagging, or flick back and forth in cats
  • the pet may tremble, try to escape, and may urinate, defecate, or release the contents of its anal glands

When a pet’s problem behavior is rooted in anxiety or fear, the animal’s state of mind cannot be ignored; it must be addressed directly. This can be accomplished in part through changes in the environment (e.g., removing the top from a covered litter box so a cat can observe its surroundings) and the use of behavioral modification protocols that teach pets to relax when faced with situations that typically result in anxiety.

Remedies that relieve anxiety can also be helpful, particularly when combined with environmental modifications and appropriate training. Options include:

  • calming nutritional supplements (e.g., Anxitane or Composure)
  • synthetic pheromone preparations (e.g., Comfort Zone, Feliway, or DAP)
  • clothing that provides reassuring body pressure (e.g., Thundershirt)
  • prescription anti-anxiety medications like Clomicalm, clomipramine, Reconcile, fluoxetine, or amitriptyline

If you are unsure of what your pet is feeling when it acts in an inappropriate manner, talk to a veterinarian who specializes in behavior. He or she can diagnose the underlying cause, recommend behavioral modification protocols, and prescribe appropriate treatments.


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